The NHL was rocked by a significant newsflash Thursday and, with all due respect to Matt Halischuk, it had nothing to do with the veteran winger finding a new home with the Winnipeg Jets.
No, the real headline grabber was Ilya Kovalchuk's exit from the New Jersey Devils -- leaving some $77 million over 12 years on the table -- to return to Russia and play in the KHL.
'They seemed excited to get the opportunity to talk to me and I felt the same way... when you get a call from an organization like that, it's exciting. I'm grateful'
"I saw that today... I couldn't believe it," said Halischuk in a telephone interview with the Free Press. "That's a surprise."
Told that even with the other news his signing with the Jets might still warrant front page news in Winnipeg, Halischuk chuckled then added:
"Really? Thanks. I appreciate that."
Yes, the Halischuk addition is significant in its part of the continuing makeover of the Jets this summer and especially to the right side of the depth chart. His signing comes in a two-week stretch in which the club has added Michael Frolik and Devon Setoguchi through trades and -- coupled with the crop of existing right-wingers that includes Blake Wheeler, Chris Thorburn and Anthony Peluso -- means an area of need has been upgraded.
At the end of last season the Jets' right side included Blake Wheeler, Kyle Wellwood, Antti Miettinen, Thorburn, Peluso and Mike Santorelli. Wheeler is a restricted free agent and expected to be a cornerstone going forward; Wellwood and Miettinen remain unsigned unrestricted free agents while Santorelli has landed with Vancouver.
In Halischuk, the Jets get a 25-year-old veteran of 157 NHL games who has 25 career goals and 29 assists -- including 15 in 73 contests back in 2011-12 -- and who can play on both wings and is an adept penalty killer.
He is also coming off "shoulder- stabilization" surgery after being injured in late April, but figures to be good to go when training camp opens.
"First and foremost I try and bring a lot of energy to my game and I try to be a responsible two-way player who can chip in and score some big goals whenever I can," Halischuk said. "I try to play a hard game at both ends every night."
He was told by the Predators about a week before free agency they would not be re-signing him. But not long after the market opened, he heard from the Jets and it didn't take him long to put his signature on a new one-year, two-way contract that will pay him $650,000 in the NHL and $250,000 if he is in St. John's.
"They seemed excited to get the opportunity to talk to me and I felt the same way," said Halischuk. "Free agency opened on the Friday (July 5) and through the weekend all the big guys go (off the market). Then Winnipeg called... when you get a call from an organization like that, it's exciting. I'm grateful.
"I knew a week or two before free agency started that there was a pretty good chance Nashville wasn't going to re-sign me. You spend a day or two thinking about that... but I also have confidence in my game and I can use this as motivation to come in and play hard, earn my spot and prove my game again."
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